Volunteers, staff, and board members from Housing Opportunities Made Equal, Virginia Habitat for Humanity, United Way, the Virginia Interfaith Center, EarthCraft, and Rebuilding Together discussed housing issues over coffee with Delegate Peter Farrell on Thursday, September 27, 2012, at Christ Episcopal Church in western Henrico County.
The discussion began with an overview of the work done by the two Habitat for Humanity affiliates in Goochland and Louisa. Over the years, these organizations, which are run completely by volunteers, have built dozens of homes and helped many Virginians become first-time homebuyers. Habitat for Humanity and other non-profit housing organizations are now building EarthCraft-certified homes. EarthCraft homes are built for energy, water, and resource efficiency; durability; and enhanced indoor air quality. EarthCraft homes are great investments because they benefit low-income Virginians with lower utility costs, reduced home maintenance requirements, and higher resale values. Many low- and moderate-income Virginians live in older housing that, while cheaper, is more costly to maintain because of high utility and maintenance costs. Housing that is built to be more sustainable and energy efficient isn’t just good for the environment; it is great economics for home builders, real estate professionals, and home owners.
Related to the issue of home utility and maintenance is the issue of housing needs for the “Age Wave” in the Richmond metropolitan area. The “Age Wave” is a term used to describe the phenomenon of the vast Baby Boomer generation reaching retirement age. The United Way of Greater Richmond and Petersburg recently released The Greater Richmond Regional Plan for Age Wave Readiness. It is estimated that by 2020, older adults will outnumber school-age children in the Richmond regional planning district, which consists of the city of Richmond and the counties of Henrico, Chesterfield, Powhatan, Hanover, Charles City, New Kent, and Goochland. This Age Wave has significant implications for housing in our region.
Currently, many older adults in the Richmond region live in older housing inside the city because these homes are closer to many of the social services and health care upon which they rely. Unfortunately, this housing stock is difficult to maintain and repair. Amy King, executive director of Rebuilding Together of Richmond, spoke at length about how her volunteers help repair and renovate these homes for low-income, elderly residents who are unable to afford or accomplish this work themselves. Investing in these retrofits and repairs is cost effective because it prevents these individuals from being sent to a long-term care facility, for which the state must pay through Medicaid.
These older homes also pose serious health risks. Improper ventilation, mold, and decay lead to poor air quality and cause health complications. Ultimately, these poor health outcomes are paid for by the state as these individuals end up on Medicaid in expensive long-term care facilities.
Rebuilding Together of Richmond is a volunteer-based program that repairs and rehabilitates homes. It helps low-income elderly and disabled people who own their homes, but are unable to maintain them. Older housing stock is difficult for elderly residents to maintain, especially if they have a low income. The plumbing and utilities are frequently outdated and expensive, and the buildings are often too narrow to accommodate people with accessibility issues. Unfortunately, many are forced to live in these neighborhoods because they are closer to the services they need and are more affordable than the housing stock outside the city.
There was general consensus in the room during the discussion that the region needs more affordable housing in which it is sustainable to live. Poorly constructed housing is not truly affordable housing because it becomes unsustainable and thus expensive to live in, especially for low- and moderate-income Virginians. This is why the EarthCraft program is so important in Virginia. Affordable housing must be sustainable for the long term.
Connected to the issue of affordable housing is poverty. According to The Commonwealth Institute, poverty has risen in Virginia, especially amongst children:
The number of people living in poverty in Virginia rose significantly in 2011, however. In 2011, almost 44,000 more Virginians lived in poverty than in 2010. Compared to pre-recession levels, 163,234 more Virginians lived in poverty in 2011 than before the recession began in 2007. The poverty rate for the state now stands at 11.5 percent.
The number and rate of people living in deep poverty – with incomes less than about $9,265 for a family of three – also jumped in 2011. Almost 417,000 Virginians lived in deep poverty in 2011, up 10 percent over 2010.
The situation is particularly bad for kids. More than 15 percent of all children in Virginia – about 274,000 – lived in poverty in 2011. That’s an increase of over 14,000 kids since 2010, and over 163,000 since before the recession started. Richmond and Virginia Beach saw the greatest increases over 2010. In both those regions, more than one in six children lived in poverty.
In the first quarter of 2012, Virginia families making 60% of the median household income ($38,049 per year) had to pay 37.7% of their monthly income to buy a home (Median Monthly Cost (PITI) = $1,194 Based on Median Sales Price = $215,000). This is not a seasonal blip. In 2011, Virginia families making 60% of the median household income had to dedicate 39.3% of their monthly income to own a home. This is better than 52.7% in 2007, but as the economy recovers, housing costs will go up again. At no point was housing ever below the standard threshold of 30% of income. These families have always paid more than 30% of their monthly income for housing. The housing crisis has not solved the affordability problem.
Where you live is just as important as how much you pay for housing. Unfortunately, to find affordable housing, low- and moderate-income families have had to drive further and further away from their jobs. This has led to a transportation problem that has seriously hurt Virginia’s economic outlook. Making sure that affordable housing is available closer to jobs and schools will lower transportation costs for families and government.
Delegate Farrell spoke at length about the need to expand school choice for Virginia’s families. Where a child is raised dramatically impacts her or his earning ability. It dictates their access to schools, jobs, and other resources. Delegate Farrell also spoke about Virginia’s dire transportation situation and the need to find a solution.
Delegate Peter Farrell represents Virginia’s 56th district in the Virginia House of Delegates. The 56th district includes portions of the counties of Goochland, Louisa, Henrico, and Spotsylvania. He is a graduate of the University of Virginia, is a former member of the Collegiate School Alumni Board, and currently serves on the Tuckahoe YMCA Board of Directors and the Little Sisters of the Poor Advisory Board. In 2010, Farrell was named one of the Top 40 Under 40 Leaders by Style Weekly. He is also the Vice-Chairman of the Henrico GOP Committee and has served as a legislative aide to Senator Kenneth Stolle. Farrell is a small businessman and the founding member of Recast Energy, an energy company that provides thermal energy to industrial customers.